By Joshua Schnitman
On June 15, 2001, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and the Los Angeles Lakers clinched their second consecutive NBA championship by closing out the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of the 2001 NBA Finals. The Philadelphia 76ers featured Allen Iverson, the 2000-01 league MVP, Dikembe Mutombo, the 2000-01 Defensive Player of the Year, Larry Brown, the 2000-01 Coach of the Year, and Aaron McKie, the 2000-01 Sixth Man of the Year. The 2000-01 Lakers went 15-1 throughout their postseason run, a feat only accomplished in 2016-17 by the Golden State Warriors who went 16-1. The legendary Bryant, O’Neal, and Coach Jackson led the Lakers to a third straight title in 2001-02.
Throughout the 2000-01 regular season, O’Neal averaged 28.7 points per game and 12.7 rebounds per game while Bryant averaged 28.5 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game, and 5 assists per game. Throughout the Lakers’ 2001 postseason run, O’Neal averaged 30.4 points per game and 15.4 rebounds per game while Bryant averaged 29.4 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, and 6.1 assists per game. The only loss for the Lakers during their 2001 playoff run was Game 1 of the Finals series against the 76ers. In the clinching Game 5 against the 76ers, O’Neal finished with 29 points and 13 rebounds while Bryant finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. O’Neal claimed his second of an eventual three consecutive Finals MVPs.
As Lakers teammates, Bryant and O’Neal forged one of the most dynamic one-two punches of all time. O’Neal was one of the most dominant and unstoppable forces the game has ever seen while Bryant was one of the most talented, spectacular, and driven the game has ever seen. Bryant and O’Neal first became Lakers teammates in 1996. Bryant, who entered the 1996 NBA Draft straight out of high school, was traded to the Lakers on the same day he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. O’Neal, who had emerged as a beloved young star with the Orlando Magic, signed with the Lakers as a free agent shortly after Bryant was traded to the team. After Jackson, who had previously guided the Michael-Jordan-led Chicago Bulls to six titles, was hired to coach the O’Neal and Bryant-led Lakers in the offseason of 1999, they began to fire on all cylinders.
In leading the Lakers to three straight championships from 1999-00 – 2001-02, Bryant and O’Neal cemented their place in history as two of the most thrilling NBA superstars of all time, while Jackson continued to show why he is one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all time. Following the Lakers’ devastating 2004 Finals loss to the Larry Brown-coached Detroit Pistons, O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat and Jackson resigned. After a year off, Jackson was rehired to coach Bryant and the Lakers. Bryant worked tirelessly to perfect his game even more and grew into a better team leader than ever before. Bryant and Coach Jackson led the Lakers to two more championships in 2008-09 and 2009-10. In the 2009 NBA All-Star Game, O’Neal, then playing for the Phoenix Suns, was reunited with both Bryant and Jackson, the coach of the Western Conference squad. In this stirring turn-back-the-clock moment, Bryant and O’Neal were named co-MVPs of the 2009 NBA All-Star Game.